Australia is in the grip of a domestic violence crisis. On average, an Australian woman dies every week at the hands of a current or previous partner. It’s a crisis that affects Indigenous communities disproportionately: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of domestic violence than any other group of women in Australia.
Domestic Violence Crisis in Indigenous Communities
Brendon Adams, a community leader in the far western New South Wales town of Wilcannia, told the ABC the complex factors behind domestic violence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
“When you’re dealing with segregation, oppression, high unemployment and low income, there are a lot of men who feel like they can’t support their families. They might become depressed, even suicidal, and look for escape in the form of gambling or drug and alcohol abuse. Violence is a by-product of that.”
Mr Adams said long-term prevention strategies could help stop domestic violence becoming normalised.
He is the coordinator of the Men’s Hub in Wilcannia, a community organisation which, along with local rugby league clubs, are working to address domestic violence by offering workshops, counselling services, and emergency accommodation for men. The issue has brought men and women together.
The domestic violence crisis that Mr Adams sees on a daily basis is supported by research data, from the 2002 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey.
About one in four Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years or over reported being a victim of physical or threatened violence in the twelve months before the survey (24%). The rate was higher among those who:
- were aged 15–24 years
- had been removed from their natural families (38% compared with 23% among those not removed)
- had a disability (29% compared with 22% among those without a disability)
- had experienced a high number of stressors (50% of those with 11 or more stressors compared to 8% among those with none)
- lived in low income households (27% compared with 19% among those in high income households)
- were unemployed (38% compared with 21% among the employed).
The age-standardised rate for being a victim of physical or threatened violence among the Indigenous population was over twice the rate of the non-Indigenous population.
Although the rates were similar among those living in major cities (25%) and in remote areas (23%), people in remote areas were much more likely to report that family violence was a neighbourhood problem (41% compared with 14% in non-remote areas).
How To Handle The Domestic Violence Crisis
Antoinette Braybrook heads up the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services Victoria (FVPLS). She says organisations, like FVPLS, who work on the frontline with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims/survivors of family violence grapple with these issues on a daily basis.
Ms Braybrook says governments need to take immediate action by setting justice targets within the Closing the Gap strategy to reduce family violence.
“We also need to see a greater investment by governments at all levels into Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, like FVPLSs, who work to address and prevent violence against our people. And we need to see far greater investment into early intervention and prevention to break the cycle of violence and work with Aboriginal women and children to build resilience and reduce vulnerability to family violence,” she said.
The report says removal of land, and cultural dispossession over the past 230 years has resulted in particular social, economic, physical, psychological and emotional problems for First Australians.
Ms Braybrook, also the co-chair of Change The Record, says that government reports often don’t address racism and the ongoing injustices Indigenous peoples face, which is a big part of why rates of violence against Indigenous women and children are high.
“It is important though to break down the stigma that this is an ‘Aboriginal’ problem,” she said. “When we talk about the high rates of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, we are not just talking about violence by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men. Data shows us that the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in metropolitan areas, and many other areas, are partnered with non-Aboriginal men.”
While Indigenous Australians experience family violence at a much higher rate than non-Indigenous Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are less likely to report incidents to police. And when incidents are reported, victims may not disclose that the incident was perpetrated by a family member – with some with studies showing that up to 90 per cent of violence against Indigenous women may not be reported.
Ms Braybrook says Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women face many barriers to reporting and being believed.
“Systemic racism and the history of colonization in this country mean it is hard for Aboriginal people to trust the police. Far too often our women are failed by the system that is supposed to protect them,” she said.
Those at risk from the domestic violence crisis include children. Almost 17,000 Indigenous children were in out-of-home care, a rate almost ten times that for non-Indigenous children.
Antionette Braybrook says in Victoria family violence is the single biggest driver of Aboriginal children being removed.
“It’s similar right around the country,” she said. “The evidence shows us there is a clear link between family violence – child protection and out of home care – youth justice and getting locked up as an adult. This is devastating our families and our communities.”
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